Episode Descriptions

the cambridge house

Season 32: The Cambridge Project

This project premieres on PBS Saturdays at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Also in prime time exclusively on PBS Thursdays in the first half of The This Old House Hour at 8pm ET (check local listings).



The Cambridge 2012 Project, Scandinavian Modern?, Part 1 of 15
Saturday, October 4, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


This season This Old House will travel to both city and the country, offering new ideas for young families, as well as those thinking about aging-in-place. First up is an 1887 Victorian-era two-family in the Porter Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts that homeowners John Stone and Sally Peterson hope to turn into a one-family home. The historic exterior will remain largely intact, while inside, the dark collection of small rooms will be transformed into a bright, modern, open, Scandinavian-style interior. Host Kevin O'Connor tours the house, while landscape contractor Roger Cook finds a few surprises in the yard. Then, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey uses an eye-opening home energy audit to demonstrate the need for efficiency upgrades. Sally shares Swedish heritage with her architect, Marcus Gleysteen, who shows host Kevin O'Connor the Scandinavian aspects of his own home - lots of white, natural materials, wood ceilings, and a blend of old and new. To achieve the same look at our house, general contractor Tom Silva brings in deconstruction expert John Grossman to remove all of the old and unneeded house parts – they will later be resold, reused, or recycled at a local salvage shop - but first, they carefully peel back the layers of the old house one by one.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Deconstruction and Design, Part 2 of 15
Saturday, October 11, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Back at the Cambridge 2012 project, the deconstruction continues with the removal of the central chimney that is in the way of the new kitchen. The crew removes it by hand, brick by brick, so they can reuse it on another job. Host Kevin O'Connor visits deconstruction expert John Grossman at his "eco" resale store in Springfield, MA. He has tripled the size of his operation since our last job together, mostly due to increased awareness and affordability of his services. Landscape contractor Roger Cook welcomes back arborist Jack Kelly to remove the sick Norway maple that, left untouched, would come down on its own one day soon. His crew makes quick work of it with bucket trucks, tag lines, chainsaws and chippers. With the inside of the house opened up, architects Marcus Gleysteen and Robyn Bell show Kevin the plan for the new space via a 3-D computer model, then the visit a house down the street with homeowner Sally Peterson to see the design ideas that first caught Sally's eye.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Deconstruction and Design, Part 3 of 15
Saturday, October 18, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

With the interior opened up, master carpenter Norm Abram shows host Kevin O'Connor the bones of the building, and the unique features of a balloon framed house - studs that run from sill plate to top plate, with floors that hang from that structure. On the first floor, general contractor Tom Silva needs to relocate a load bearing partition wall, and take the dip out of the floor. He uses temporary supports, makes up a carrying beam, inserts the new structure, and then removes the old wall. Out front, Kevin and homeowner Sally Peterson meet Susan Maycock from the Cambridge Historic Commission to learn about appropriate colors for the outside of her Victorian-era house, and how many homeowners get it wrong by using too many colors in the wrong places. While the outside of her home will be traditional, inside it will be anything but, so Sally takes Kevin up to Porter Square to see the style she's after via a shop where owner Dale Anderson curates a collection of vintage and current Scandinavian items for the home. Back at our house, Tom continues to frame in the basement, but this time without wood – he's using new tongue and groove foam panels with embedded plastic studs and wiring chases. Kind of like a partial ICF, he installs them against the fieldstone foundation with a foam construction adhesive. Master electrician Allen Gallant shows Kevin how he's upgrading and relocating the electrical service on the house.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Swedish Style, Part 4 of 15
Saturday, October 25, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

After a quick coffee in Porter Square, host Kevin O'Connor finds general contractor Tom Silva working on the architect's plans to vary ceiling height on the first floor for dramatic effect. Kevin lends a hand in the living room as they use two-by-fours and strapping to drop the ceiling by eight inches in two key places. Then, Kevin travels to Fairfield, CT to meet designers Edie Van Breems and Rhonda Eleish to learn how our house's Scandinavian modern style evolved from more rustic Swedish country interiors. Back in Cambridge, master carpenter Norm Abram shows Kevin the framing progress on the second floor where there will be three bedrooms, a laundry, and a shared bath. Norm notes where Tom made the ceilings flat without necessarily needing to be level in the bedrooms. On the third floor, they review the framing upgrades, and Kevin helps Tom install a new skylight so it will never leak. At the end of the day, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey arrives with ductwork and plans to introduce air conditioning to the house for the first time in its history.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Landscape Plans, Roof Deck, Part 5 of 15
Saturday, November 1, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Kevin joins the legions of Cambridge locals by biking to work on a vintage bicycle restored locally. Landscape architect Greg Lombardi presents a plan for a yard that combines both traditional and modern elements. Tom shows Kevin how he's gotten rid of the steps to the roof deck by dropping the structure into the ceiling of the second floor. Roger arrives to tackle the giant stump left over from the old Norway Maple, first with a chainsaw, then a stump grinder. Richard shows Kevin how they've kept the ducts out of the roof rafter bays to preserve that space for insulation, and on the second floor, how they've hidden the air handler at the top of a hall closet. The plumbers have also been creative by using cast iron on the vertical runs of waste pipe in the bedrooms to dull sound, and by using a new polypropylene green pipe for supply lines as an alternative to copper. The new system incorporates connections that are fused using high heat.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Exterior Improvements, Part 6 of 15
Saturday, November 8, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Mason Mark McCullough shows Norm how he's repointing the old brick foundation with great care and a type N mortar that is slightly softer than the brick so it will give before the brick does. Then Norm and Tom repair the sagging front porch by jacking up the porch roof, replacing one of the rotted posts with a match from a local salvage yard, and then fastening the roof back to the house. Kevin visits Community Rowing on the Charles River to see how they make the Cambridge pastime of rowing available to everyone, including kids, disabled vets, and even general contractors. Back at our house, the historic porch railing is rotted and paint-caked, but the conservation district says we must replace it in kind, so Tom and Kevin re-build it out of 2x2 stock ripped down from 6x6s. Tom details the fire blocking and fire caulking as spray foam insulation begins in our balloon frame house.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Old and New in Harmony, Part 7 of 15
Saturday, November 15, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Roger replaces the existing concrete front walk with a beautiful new bluestone design. They jackhammer out the old walk and start the prep for new. Tom shows Kevin the modifications he specified on the replacement windows to make them more acceptable to the Historic Commission. On the third floor, tile contractor Mark Ferrante, uses a shower waterproofing system made up of prefab components that can be customized for any size shower. We're not the only ones planning a modern house inside the shell of an old one—architect Michael Kim shows Kevin how he did just that in Brookline, and how modern and traditional can live in harmony. Painting contractor Mauro Henrique starts paint prep and shows Kevin the shades of yellow the homeowner is considering for the exterior.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Plaster, Shingles, Radiant Heat, Part 8 of 15
Saturday, November 22, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Kevin and Richard get a taste of culturally diverse Cambridge by visiting what's known locally as Japan Town. Back at the project, it's all about Italy today, as our plaster Bob Bucco is hard at work. Bob introduces Kevin to his father, Vito Bucco, who started in the trade 60 years ago. Norm shows how Tom has matched the exterior trim details and how the clapboards are going on over an underlayment that will let them dry out. Then, up on the roof deck, he lends a hand as Tom creates a staggered shingle pattern on the half walls to match what is on the existing house. Kevin heads to Boston's South End to visit interior designers Andrew Terrat and Dee Elms to see how they are planning to execute the homeowners' vision of "Scandinavian Modern." Back at the house, Richard and project plumber Abe Bilo add floor warming radiant heat to the first floor from below, and a state of the art condensing boiler to fuel both the radiant and the hydro air systems.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Gutters, Range, Fireplace, Part 9 of 15
Saturday, November 29, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Norm and Kevin arrive to find the painters putting up a tinted primer with airless sprayers, turning the house from a bland grey to a sunny (and Swedish) yellow. Inside, Tom and Norm get to work trimming out the double hung widows on the second floor with an elegant, modern detail specified by the architect. Back outside, Norm finds custom gutter fabricator Augustin Crookston on site again to form and install the custom copper half round gutters for our project. Kevin meets homeowner Sally Peterson and appliance expert Sandy Lashway to explore the benefits of upgrading to professional grade ranges and ovens at a hands-on showroom. Back at the house, Richard meets fireplace specialist John Sullivan to see the Danish-designed zero-clearance wood burning fireplace insert he's providing for the living room. With the fireplace installed, homeowner John Stone shows Kevin the design and storage options they considered for fireplace wall, including the final design.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Swedish Design Details, Part 10 of 15
Saturday, December 6, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Norm drives up to find the paint job and the gutters complete, and the effect of the yellow, white and black with the copper is fresh, and decidedly Swedish. Inside, our Scandinavian-style house will be white on white, except for some key accents of wood. Tom shows Kevin how he's installing Southern yellow pine boards on the ceilings at the bay windows for architectural interest. On the third floor, the designers have chosen to add some color in the form of bright blue mosaic floor tile. Tile contractor Mark Ferrante shows Kevin how he's using the same mosaic to create a feature strip on the vanity wall to break up an entire wall of oversized white subway tile. Out on the roof deck, Tom uses cellular PVC porch boards and a customized railing system to complete the space. In the kitchen, Norm shows Kevin the prefinished maple flooring they are using and how he's working from the middle of the floor out, to compensate in case the exterior walls are out of square. At the end of the day, the last detail is installing a custom cap for the roof deck railing.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Swedish Design Details, Part 10 of 15
Saturday, December 6, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Norm drives up to find the paint job and the gutters complete, and the effect of the yellow, white and black with the copper is fresh, and decidedly Swedish. Inside, our Scandinavian-style house will be white on white, except for some key accents of wood. Tom shows Kevin how he's installing Southern yellow pine boards on the ceilings at the bay windows for architectural interest. On the third floor, the designers have chosen to add some color in the form of bright blue mosaic floor tile. Tile contractor Mark Ferrante shows Kevin how he's using the same mosaic to create a feature strip on the vanity wall to break up an entire wall of oversized white subway tile. Out on the roof deck, Tom uses cellular PVC porch boards and a customized railing system to complete the space. In the kitchen, Norm shows Kevin the prefinished maple flooring they are using and how he's working from the middle of the floor out, to compensate in case the exterior walls are out of square. At the end of the day, the last detail is installing a custom cap for the roof deck railing.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Window Seat, Stairs, Knee Walls, Part 11 of 15
Saturday, December 13, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

In the side yard, Roger installs two new sets of granite steps to access the old deck. Tom shows Kevin how he's making a new window seat fit into an old bay window. Norm installs the last of the maple stair treads, and creates a custom newel cap out of southern yellow pine. In the master bedroom, Tom shows Kevin how he concealed access doors within the wainscoting for the knee walls. Painting contractor Mauro Henrique use a whitewash stain with a lacquer finish to make our southern yellow pine ceilings look Swedish.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Drywells, Kitchen Design, Deck Tiles, Part 12 of 15
Saturday, December 20, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Kevin meets proprietor Jack Woker at his record store in Porter Square to see why people still love and appreciate vintage vinyl. Back at the house, Roger shows Kevin how he's using two lightweight plastic drywells to deal with the water that will come off the roof. Inside, kitchen designer Kathy Marshall shows Kevin how she used cabinetry details and custom wood finishes to create a Scandinavian-inspired kitchen. Norm meets HVAC consultant Evan Trethewey to see a new thermostat that claims to be able to learn your habits and preferences. Tom shows Kevin how he's refurbishing the old pressure treated deck by covering it over with click-together Ipe deck tiles.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Hearthstone, Butcher Block Island, Part 13 of 15
Saturday, December 27, 2012 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Kevin arrives to find Roger putting in the plants before the weather turns. He's using a mixture of traditional plants and modern grasses to achieve the same mix of old and new as the rest of the project. Inside, the fireplace is ready for its hearth. Stone specialist Danny Puccio shows Kevin how they are using pietra cardosa (Italian sandstone) turned upside down to achieve a rustic finish that goes with the Swedish theme. The sides of the woodbox are getting the same stone, right side out with a honed finish. Norm visits Paul Grothouse in his state-of-the-art Pennsylvania shop for a meeting of the woodworking minds. The butcher block top for the kitchen island has a "waterfall edge" made with an eye-catching joinery technique called a dovetail key. Paul trucks the island top to Cambridge, where the whole crew lends a hand getting it in the house, and in place. On the third floor, Richard is working on a waterfall of his own – he shows Kevin the progress on the plumbing trim out and the wall mounted fixtures for the double vanity sinks.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, Secondary Spaces, Part 14 of 15
Saturday, January 3, 2013 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Kevin arrives to find Roger finishing up the driveway and the planting. Inside, Norm finds the first floor nearly complete—and very white—except for the small powder room where wallpaper installer Mike Bradshaw is putting up a bold hand-drawn wave pattern made in England. We see his technique for cutting and installing around the new blue vanity. Tom turns his attention to the basement, where he meets homeowner John Stone to help him make a simple DIY workshop with materials from the home center. They make a workbench out of a solid core door and add pegboard for tool storage.

Next door to the workshop, the basement hallway and playroom will be more finished than the workshop, to give the kids a place to play. Jamie Gilmore shows Kevin how his team prepped the room by grinding down the high spots of the concrete, sealing the surface against moisture, skimming the surface with concrete, then finally applying the linoleum composition tile. Local glass artist Carrie Gustafson invites Norm into her workshop to see how she translates her background in printmaking and her love of natural, organic forms into magical pieces to hold the light, like the fixture she's making for the entry foyer at our project. On the third floor in the master suite, closet designer Erin Hardy shows Kevin the latest offerings in storage options that blend seamlessly with the modern aesthetic of the house. Back downstairs, at the end of the day, automation expert Doug Schmidt shows Kevin how he's provided wireless control for the battery- powered window shades, the first floor lighting and music. He's also provided an amazingly slim flat screen that pivots on a bracket for easy viewing, or tucking away flush with the wall it sits on.

The Cambridge 2012 Project, The Big Finish, Part 15 of 15
Saturday, January 10, 2013 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Norm arrives to a rainy morning in Cambridge. The weather, however, isn't stopping Roger, who is putting in the last of four granite posts. Inside, Norm finds Tom reinstalling a little piece of nostalgia from the old house: an old-school doorbell that the homeowners wanted to keep. Next, Kevin finds Sally and kitchen designer Kathy Marshall settling Sally's stuff into her new kitchen and showing off its functional features: appliances, storage, sink, faucet, chopping block drawer, and even a hideaway step stool. Downstairs, Kevin finds John with no man cave, but rather great space for the kids, a workshop of his own, and Richard, who's given him high efficiency mechanicals.

Richard welcomes back energy auditor Jimmy Seaborg to see how we did on tightening up the building. Back outside, Kevin meets landscape architect Greg Lombardi to see his plan realized. There were some adjustments because of budget, but the design intent is still intact: hardscape and plant material work together to create separate areas of use and function. The other great outdoor space is the roof deck; Norm recaps the work out there and then meets interior designer Andrew Terrat for a tour of the master suite. The second floor is all about the kids so Sally shows Kevin the highly functional laundry, and how the girls each had a say in the colors and details of their own rooms. The heart of the project is really the first floor. Designer Dee Elms walks Kevin through the entry foyer, hallway/mudroom, powder room, built-in hutch, living room, and dining room. As Andrew shows Kevin the highlights of the kitchen, the crew and homeowners gather for one last hurrah…until the newly installed doorbell rings! Everyone flows out onto the front porch for a last look at the exterior and a farewell cheer with the neighbors.